In late October 2017, I announced three grants to honor my late husband, Jacob Johnson. I wanted to make sure that his sudden death was not what he was known for, but instead his talent, generosity and kindness. I created the grants to spread his joy and keep him remembered.
Saturday, January 20, 2018 to Monday, January 22, 2018 a show of Jacob’s photography will be open to the public at 1821 W Hubbard #102, Chicago, IL 60622. Gallery hours are 10AM — 6PM. This memorial show is the first time his work has ever been printed, framed or displayed.
Hundreds of applications came in from all over the world. A diverse and talented group submitted stories that were emotional, thought-provoking, and as unique as the photographers who captured them. I was tempted to open the images as they were submitted every day, but I waited until after the deadline in December to pour over each entry. Over many hours, huddled by the light of my laptop, I heard the voices of strangers speaking to me through these photographers’ powerful images.
I compiled the top 50 entries into a presentation, and then hosted a panel of fellow photographers and friends to help me deliberate. As we compared the work, we assessed how each project would best represent the category, and spent four hours trying to decide on winners. We talked about what Jacob would have wanted and how he would be so humbled by the quality of the entries.
The three $2,500 grants were established to catalyze compelling personal narratives. As a professional photographer, I realize that amount of money is not enough to make or break a project, but it’s my small contribution to validate the artists’ work and alleviate the overall costs of making the images. I consider it a reward for a great idea and astounding photography.
I’ve included text from each photographer’s application as captions, along with their winning images.
GRANT 1: $2,500 TO A CHICAGO PHOTOGRAPHER
To honor the city that helped shape Jacob as an artist, one grant will be awarded to Adam Jason Cohen, working on a project titled Mild Sauce. His images serve as documents of the long-lasting and profound connections he’s made with people and places in Chicago. The mainstream media’s depiction of Chicago is often violent, dehumanizing or predatory, but Cohen invites his viewers in for a much more personal and intimate narrative.
GRANT 2: $2,500 TO AN UNHEARD VOICE
To honor those often excluded from media due to their race, gender or social philosophy, one grant will be given to Zora J. Murff, producing work that gives voice to the underrepresented. His project, titled At No Point In Between, illustrates the ways in which violence against black people in America continues to shape landscapes, communities and identity, specifically in North Omaha, NE.
GRANT 3: $2,500 TO A PORTRAIT SERIES
In honor of our relationship, in which we photographed one another without hesitation, one grant will be awarded to Rachel Wisniewski who is working on a portrait series in response to the #MeToo movement. Her photographs feature women’s stories of their first experience with sexual assault or harassment. She artfully pairs a present-day image of the subject with an old photograph from the age in which the incident occurred.
Thank you, applicants. Congratulations, winners. And to the everyone reading — your stories matter. Keep telling them.
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